I suppose it was inevitable that some people would compare Jeremy Lin to Tim Tebow. This is partly because every sports story these days must be compared to Tebow, as well as every non-sports story, and retroactively, every previous sports story. But it is also because Linsanity has temporarily replaced Tebowmania as the can-you-believe-that story that your mother who doesn't watch sports might bring up in casual conversation. And because Lin appeals to an unusual demographic for an NBA player (Asian-Americans) just as Tebow appeals to an unusual demographic for an NFL player (evangelical Christians).
The problem is that as stories go, Jeremy Lin makes Tim Tebow seem as interesting as a rain delay. Lin is a much better story because he is a much bigger long shot and is playing much better than Tebow did. He is an undrafted Asian-American guard from Harvard who is playing as well as almost anybody in the NBA.
How unlikely is this? Unbelievably so.
Tebow was a five-star recruit who chose Florida over Alabama, LSU, Michigan, USC, and not Harvard. Gators fans clamored for him to start his entire freshman year even though senior Chris Leak was leading the team to a national title. Tebow won another national title two years later.
Tebow also won something called the Heisman Trophy. Perhaps you've heard of it. As a senior at Harvard, Lin lost the Ivy League Player of the Year award to Ryan Wittman of Cornell.
Every team in the NBA could have had Lin. Two (the Warriors and Rockets) had him and dumped him. The Knicks had him and almost dumped him before putting him on the floor, almost for bookkeeping purposes. They say they wanted to see if he could play before deciding to sign him for the rest of the year. It may be more accurate to say they wanted to make sure he couldn't play.
Tebow? He was a first-round pick -- a controversial one, but still a first-round pick. The coach who drafted him, Josh McDaniels, believed he would be a star.
The Knicks won Lin's first four starts and he was the biggest reason. He scored at least 20 points in every one, and he did so efficiently. His line against the Lakers last Friday -- 38 points on 13 of 23 shooting, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals -- would have made anybody in NBA history proud, even though he committed six turnovers.
The Broncos won six straight Tebow starts this year, but was he the reason? In one game he completed 2 of 8 passes. He completed 50 percent of his passes twice during that streak, and in one of the games, against Chicago, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was so unimpressed that he said Tebow was "a good running back."
Every pass Tebow threw was dissected by 147 people on TV, so what I am about to say is not a secret, but he is a long way from being a great NFL quarterback. He is about as accurate as the Weekly World News.
This doesn't mean he is a bad quarterback. He excelled at three things: hanging on to the ball, running and late-game heroics. Those are all valuable, and the late-game heroics allowed us to make 14 million jokes about Tebow being an instrument of the Lord, which seemed inappropriate after the first 1.5 million, until we all just accepted it. But his performance was not as impressive as Lin's.
Nobody believed in Lin before he went on a run. Many NFL executives don't believe in Tebow even after he led the Broncos to the playoffs. This includes Tebow's own boss, John Elway, who knows a bit about quarterbacking, and who won't promise Tebow a starting spot beyond the start of training camp.
Could Tebow become an NFL star? Sure, it's possible. But it's not as likely as Lin being an NBA star. I love basketball, but it's a simpler game than pro football and therefore easier to figure out how to stop mediocre players.
People just don't do what Lin has done unless they're really good. Watch him and you see uncanny court vision, very good length for a point guard and the ability to score in a variety of ways, even though he is not a great pure shooter. The league will start taking away his strengths and he'll have to adapt. But he is clearly a starting point guard in that league.
Now, imagine if Tebow went to Harvard, and was undrafted, and played a year in the Canadian Football League, then signed with an NFL team as a third-string quarterback, and suddenly played like a Pro Bowler. In other words: Imagine he had a career path like Kurt Warner, who went from bagging groceries to NFL MVP.
If you want to compare Warner to Lin, you're onto something. But if Lin keeps this up, he can become a more amazing story than Warner. Why? Because it's much harder to shock us in the NBA than in the NFL.
Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 1999 draft. Joe Montana went 82nd in 1979. Warren Moon went undrafted. (Racial stereotypes of the era surely played a part in that one.) They were exceptions, of course -- plenty of top quarterbacks, like the Manning brothers, Elway and Troy Aikman, were No. 1 overall picks. Still, good starting quarterbacks do come out of nowhere sometimes.
Compare that to the NBA. Of the 24 players picked for this year's NBA All-Star Game, 18 were top-10 picks and five of the other six went in the first round. (The only exception: Marc Gasol.)
Jeremy Lin came from nowhere in a league where nobody comes from nowhere. He is a better story than Tim Tebow, and that's not a shot at Tebow. At the moment, Lin is a better story than anybody else in pro sports.